Thursday, February 5, 2015

Old Friends

So there was a moment, in these past few days, when the MMO collective held its breath.  Out of nowhere, two staunch front-line fighters were taken out with a massive blow.  We saw them fall, slowly, gracefully, and realized that there was nothing that we could do about it except thank them for all they had given to the community.

Think of that moment when your group has painstakingly reduced the boss to 20% health and suddenly both tanks go down at once.  Today we found a battle rez. 

 I was thinking about the ways that I was going to miss Wow Insider and Massively, these past few days.  One of the strengths of WI was something that is becoming a rare commodity in the internet space: long-form commentary and analysis.  It still exists elsewhere, but blogging has become more about quick observations and high posting frequency.  I enjoyed posts that you could settle into and get more than a cursory gloss on the events that might be happening in the WoW universe.

I was particularly grateful to the Know Your Lore column, not only for providing background and references, but fundamentally for asserting that understanding the lore of the game and exploring its potential implications was a valuable part of the Warcraft experience. 
I may have had strong reactions to many of the Tinfoil Hat editions, and there have been times when their speculation has been beautifully, terribly wrong in my opinion, but I loved the fact that they challenged me to take the lore seriously, and provoked me to consider it on my own. To make an effort to play the "Great Game" and not simply dismiss the story with a curt "Blizzard can't keep the lore straight, why should I?" 

Instead, they constantly strove to reconcile the individual elements into a coherent narrative that illuminated the saga that we, as characters, had been caught up in.

At the other end of the spectrum, WI gave a voice to the many players for whom the official forums weren't the friendly environment they were looking for.  With reply counts regularly in the hundreds, many voices were allowed a platform; not one free from criticism, but with a joviality that allowed anyone to make a fool of themselves and be corrected with good humor.

I loved Massively for continually re-asserting that the Warcraft franchise wasn't everything.  I credit them for standing against the storm and treating all games with respect and quiet curiosity.  They were successful precisely because they could ignore the elephant in the room with perfect equanimity.  Once you closed the door on the racket Blizzard was making, what other good things were out there to be explored, what risks were others taking, what amazing stories were being told in places like The Secret World, LOTRO, and The Elder Scrolls Online?

Massively wasn't a fansite of any particular game.  Instead, they were enthusiastic about the industry as a whole, and that gave them a perspective and freed them from a bias that single-game sites often struggle with.  They didn't pull any punches when it came to pointing out shortcomings and poor decisions, but at the same time they were willing to give devs enough rope to do whatever they wished with it, including hang themselves.

And I have to mention the amazing work that both of these sites did with podcasting, week after week and often on a professional level that was enjoyable to listen to.

I just realized that I've been speaking in the past tense, and of course the news today is that both these sites have announced plans to continue their work at different locations.  WowInsider has now become Blizzard Watch and Massively is mustering its forces under the banner of MassivelyOP (not yet up as of Wednesday).  I'll have to get busy changing the links in my blog and podcast rolls.  It isn't assured that these new sites will be the huge success that the old ones were. Start ups can be fragile things. They could probably use the MMO community's support right now, particularly in the month of February when they are getting their feet under them.